Threes A Charm For Gordon

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Jeff Gordon held off Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on a green-white-checkered finish to win Sunday's Daytona 500 and claim his third career victory in "The Great American Race."

In one of the wildest finishes in recent history, Gordon first passed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for the lead with less than 10 laps to go, then used the entire track to keep the hard-charging Busch behind. Gordon drove his Hendrick Motorsports DuPont Chevy past the checkered flag to win before a sell out crowd of 200,000 fans.

The overtime was caused when Kasey Kahne smacked the backstretch wall on lap 197 bringing out the caution and forcing NASCAR to implement the green-white-checkered rule which made its debut last season.

On the restart, Gordon jumped ahead and was able to keep Busch's Sharpie Ford behind with Earnhardt, Jr., Scott Riggs and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top-five.

"I don't know who to thank first because it was just an amazing day," Gordon said. "It just doesn't get any sweeter than this. I am so stoked. Daytona 500! Yes!"

Gordon now joins Richard Petty (7), Cale Yarborough (4) and Bobby Allison and Dale Jarrett (3) as drivers with three or more Daytona 500 victories.

Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Sterling Marlin, Kevin LePage and Rusty Wallace completed the first ten finishers.

Despite including eleven caution periods as well as several multi-car accidents, Sunday's race turned out to be one of the most exciting 500's in recent years. The multiple caution periods in the final stages set-up several segments of three and four-wide racing down the stretch.

"I had a run on the 24," said runnerup Busch. "I had that butterfly in the stomach feeling of 'I've got a shot at winning the Daytona 500' and I wouldn't have cleared him if I'd have gone to his high side. I know I wouldn't have and I'm gonna stick with that in my mind."

Earnhardt, Jr., who was written off by many after last week's qualifying effort found him 39th overall, put on an electrifying charge of his own. Dropping back as far as 30th in the late going, Junior brought his Budweiser Chevy into the lead pack much to the delight of the sell out crowd.

"Yeah, the car, we struggled all day with the car, trying to get the handle, it wouldn't turn," Earnhardt, Jr. said. "We got to go in there that last time we come in to put tires on and I got the car handling really good. I wanted to help Tony, but we really couldn't get in the same line. I got the lead then Jeff got a run around the outside and got by me. I couldn't stop him, he was going too fast."

The day looked like it would belong to Tony Stewart, who led a race-high 107 laps. Shuffled out of the lead pack in the final restart, where he started sixth behind Gordon, Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Busch and Riggs, Stewart took the checkered flag seventh.

Unhappy with Johnson, who he felt blocked him from making a run to the lead on the final lap, Stewart ran his Home Depot Chevy into the Lowe's Chevy on the cool down lap. NASCAR summoned both drivers to the official hauler afterward to discuss the situation and both emerged 20 minutes later apparently calmed down.

"It's hard leading sometimes like that," Stewart said. "We had a great car. To lead all those laps that we led. I'm so stoked about the way these guys brought this car here. It was an awesome race car. I just got caught up on restarts at the end."

Asked about the Johnson incident, Stewart made reference to Chad Knaus, crew chief of the No. 48.

"I think he was upset about me running into his driver after the race," Stewart said. I think his driver did enough running into us before we got to the checkered flag. Chad's just upset. I don't know what Chad is upset about. That's just Chad I guess. If he wants to talk about it, I'm easily accessible."

The NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series now heads to California Speedway next weekend for the running of the Auto Club 500.

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